Archives for February 2014

Next Pose Please And Surrender – Traditional Mysore Style Ashtanga

Do you practice ashtanga Mysore style and ever wonder why your teacher stops you at a certain pose. Do you know what a Mysore style class is? Read on…

What is a Mysore style class?

Mysore is the city in India where Ashtanga has it’s roots.  A Mysore class is a traditional self practice class where students practice the ashtanga sequence as given to them by their teacher. It is highly individualised and therefore suitable for complete beginners and advanced students of yoga.

In ashtanga yoga there are six series of yoga poses. They are progressively difficult but the primary series is far from easy so many people this will be challenging enough. Within this system there are fundamental gateway postures and if you can not do this pose you stop your practice there and do the closing sequence.  When your teacher thinks you are ready you will be given the next pose. This process is highly individualised  – different teachers have different standards and also the reasons for stopping one person and moving another person on vary, it might be their breath needs work, or they lack stamina or flexibility. We are all so individual both in body and in mind and this is all considered.

When I first learnt ashtanga I did not have very traditional teachers and I was not aware of this approach of stopping student but I have come to love it. For me it has been very beneficial but I know others have taken a different route through the system and I am fine with that. I am happy for anyone who practices yoga regularly because I know how beneficial that can be, regardless of the approach. I have been in the ashtanga scene long enough to have heard dogmatic arguments on both sides. I know for instance that back in the olden days people were not stopped so readily even in Mysore itself. That’s cool, just practice, that’s the most important thing. I have learnt to like being stopped and given postures by a teacher and I therefore teach my Mysore classes this way. So I just want to share why I think it is a good approach and how I have benefitted.

About 5 years ago my Mysore teacher Gail left Liverpool. By that time I was practicing ashtanga daily and was about to become a yoga teacher myself.  Around the time that she was leaving I was practising the full primary series and had just learnt to stand up from drop backs. This was a weird time for me, I had spent 5 years practising ashtanga and had grown to love working on poses that seemed impossible when all of a sudden the primary series was possible. It was possibly time to start learning second series.

I had a daily self practice at home so in the absence of a teacher I started to give myself poses. I did this based on my own capabilities but it had many pitfalls.  For one I needed more guidance about the yoga positions themselves. I needed someone to teach me how to them correctly, what to work on, I also wanted someone else to stop me and tell me where my last pose was. I can to some extent decide what is best for my body, I know it well but it is very subjective. One of the things I love about my daily ashtanga practice is that I do not have to think about it. I know what sequence to practice on what day and which pose to stop at, this becomes a very meditative practice.  All of a sudden I had to think about my practice, what should be my last pose? It became a distraction.

I decided to go to London in search of a teacher where I dutifully practiced the poses I had been given by previous teachers, fully primary.  I went to a few different teachers looking for the one I connected with most but as soon as I went to my teacher Hamish, I knew I had found my teacher.

The process of surrender to my teacher wasn’t easy. I travelled to London, every month as I still do. It was a year before I was given the first pose of intermediate. There were times I thought I should be doing more, I missed the challenge of doing something impossible every day. I wanted more…but did I really need it and should we collect asanas like other possessions in this materialistic world?

Since then there have been many other times when I have felt like I wanted more but mostly I find that amusing. My practice for me is mostly a place to practice being present so that I can be here and now more often. It doesn’t matter what my practice is only that I surrender to it. Through being stopped at a certain pose, I have learnt a lot about my own mind and it’s yearning but mostly I have learnt to surrender. To practice what is given and trust in the process. This allows my practice to become more meditative.

Do you practice ashtanga Mysore style? How do you feel about having your teacher decide what your last poses is?